David Preston Guest Post: Net Neutrality and One Sidedness

This is in response to The Oatmeal’s treatment here.

This is a good presentation of ONE SIDE of the story. Don’t get me wrong, I’m for net neutrality But to be fair, I must say that Comcast’s arguments were not fairly represented in this story. Oatmeal dot com seems to be taking the position that since Comcast is a big, greedy corporation, every action it takes must needs be motivated by its bigness and greediness. That may be true, but that should be left for readers to decide once they’ve listened to both sides.

In any event, Comcast claims that Netflix – which, by the way is another mega-corporation, just like Comcast – is using more than its “fair” share of Comcast customer bandwidth and not paying for it. Comcast’s position is that heavy users should pay more because they consume more, putting a greater strain on Comcast’s network. They say they want Internet use to be metered so heavy users pay more and light users to pay less.

There are two problems with Comcast’s argument. One is that Comcast maintains that it should be the arbiter of who’s a heavy user. Another is that Comcast is not offering, in advance, to lower its rates for light users, and there’s no guarantee that it would do so after it got what it wanted.

Now we have a more balanced picture.


David Preston guest post: Brief critique of a weak analogy . . .

For this analogy to be apt, you’d need to ask what Ron Paul would do if your neighbor on the other side came over and broke your windows. Would Ron sit there minding his own business? Or would he intervene?

You can take the analogy in different directions from there, some of which are pro-Paul and some of which aren’t.

Remember: An analogy is neither true nor false. It is simply more or less apt, depending on the context, on how well it is argued, on how well it would hold up over time, and so forth.

David Preston Guest Post: Money in Politics

[Poof!] Greetings all. Satan’s attorney here. Satan’s tied up in a meeting, so he sent me . . .

Note that the memester is making an analogy, and as I’ve said about analogies, they’re neither true nor false, since they make no claim of absolute truth.

In attacking this meme, I would say that it’s a matter of perspective. You could take anything that’s perceived as silly or superficial that Americans spend a pile of money on each year and use it to trivialize campaign spending. For example, I just discovered that Americans spend $15 billion on Valentines Day – and that’s more than twice as much as $7 billion for campaign spending! So that means that campaign spending should be even LESS of a concern, right? Cuz’ hey, Valentines Day soaks up twice as much. (And approx. 2/3 of that amount is spent on just condoms.)

Meh. It’s all so damn subjective, isn’t it?


But Steve, here’s comfort to you:

You can neutralize the effectiveness of the analogy by first distilling out the core question, which is this: Is it wrong for wealthy people, corporations, and unions to spend millions, billions (or whatever) trying to influence elections?

–If the answer is “Yes, it’s wrong for them to spend money trying to influence elections!” then the heavy lifting is done. Because hey, if something’s wrong, it’s wrong. Right?

–But if the answer is “No, it’s not wrong for them to spend money trying to influence elections!” then you’ve got to take a different tack with your campaign finance reform argument, because the $7 billion number is probably not going to magically change anyone’s mind about the matter, even if you compare it with a number that makes it look huge and wasteful by comparison. (E.g., We spend only $3 billion on veterans care.)

Abortion and Child Poverty – Guest Post by David Preston

Liberal Myth #327: Pro-life people don’t care if children starve.
Corollary: Starving children would be better off not having been born.

Found this meme on a site called “Responsible Charity.” Attached was the following text:

“Every time a pro-lifer goes on about how we should respect the life of zygotes, I want to take them straight to the slums of Kolkata and place in their hands one of many unwanted children who spend their day begging to feed themselves, so they can take them back to their comfortable homes and put an end to their unreasonable and dangerous hypocrisy” – Hemley Gonzalez, Founder of Responsible Charity.

This is insulting to say the least. But more than anything, it shows the speaker’s ignorance. I know a lot of pro-life people . . . and I have never seen any evidence that pro-life folks as a group care less about about helping suffering children than pro-choice people do. In fact, I’ve known several pro-lifers who adopted children from foreign orphanages, enduring years of paperwork, background checks, and red tape, and spending thousands of dollars. In some cases, the child they ended up adopting had emotional or physical challenges, but in spite of that, they loved that child and treated it as their own. If anything, I would say that people who devote this kind of effort to caring for “unwanted” children are more likely to be pro-life than to be pro-choice.

I will concede that not every child in an orphanage will be adopted and not every hungry mouth will be fed. So what then? What would the pro-choice “solution” to that problem be? To offer the “unwanted” children of the world a quick and painless death? Why not give them the choice? “Here little Rajiv . . . take this pill. You’ll go to sleep and never wake up again. You’ll never feel any more pain or hunger.”

How many unwanted children do you think would take that offer?

An absurd scenario? Perhaps. But no less absurd than this claim that because someone opposes abortion, he must not care whether children starve.

Begging the Question – Guest Post by David Preston

Note: Begging the Question is nearly always misunderstood by people who use the term. It doesn’t mean inviting a question, it means assuming as proven that which was to be decided by argument.

The meme I’ve included here is one-stop shopping for question-begging statements. Most or all of these “don’t” statements here beg the question, but let’s take the abortion one, because it’s the most vivid example. In that case, the question is: Does abortion destroy an innocent human life? –And that is a very important question, because if abortion does destroy a human life, then a woman has no moral right to do it, whether she has a legal right or not.

I’m not saying abortion does or doesn’t destroy a life . . . but if you try to summarize the case by saying, in effect: “It’s none of your business whether I have an abortion,” you are ignoring the original question and thus “begging” it to return.

If we take the “it’s none of your business what I do” logic to its absurd conclusions, then the fallacy becomes clear. Examples:
►Don’t like slavery? Don’t own a slave.
►Don’t like polygamy? Don’t be a Mormon.
►Don’t like sweatshops? Don’t apply for work in one.

And so on . . .

Oh yeah. Heh-heh. Almost forget the most important one of all . . .

Don’t agree with my opinion? Then shut the hell up!

Misleading Analogy, Guest Post by David Preston

Can you be lied to with an analogy?

–Technically, no, because an analogy is not a claim of substantial truth.

Can you be misled with one?

Yes, but that’s on you and not the analogy maker. It’s on you for not thinking critically and for MAKING a conclusion of truth based on an analogy that was never a CLAIM of truth in the first place

An analogy is merely a logical comparison between two things that are more or less like one another. People use analogies in argument to make the case that something is good or bad based on its similarity to something else that’s similarly good or bad in some way . . . but not in ALL ways. (And it’s important to understand that bit about not in ALL ways.) When you make an analogy, you want the two things you’re analogizing to be alike enough to be logically connected but different enough to show a categorical likeness rather than an individual one. The more disparate the two things are on the surface, the more likely you will be to capture your audience’s imagination. Or at least make them laugh.

Mark Twain said: “Politicians and diapers have to be changed often, and for the same reason.” That’s obviously a clever analogy. But does it constitute a good argument for anything? Like term limits, for example? No. And if you tried to use it that way, people would laugh at you, and not Mr. Twain.

The meme I’ve included here contains a much more complex analogy than Mark Twain’s one about politicians being full of shit. This meme likens birth control to water safety equipment and suggests that refusing birth control to minors on the grounds that it encourages sexual activity is like forbidding people to use life jackets because it encourages them to play in the water, where they could drown. The message actually is more layered and subtle than that, but the main analogy the author is making is between the idea that birth control causes sex and the (obviously non-sensical) idea that life jackets and oars cause drowning deaths.

Is this analogy more or less apt, do you think? Is a boat oar similar to a condom? Is a 16-year-old girl whose parents won’t allow her to have condoms like a child alone at sea without a life jacket? How are those things alike, and how are they different?

Remember: There’s no right or wrong answer here. There are only likenesses and unlikenesses that you, personally, will find persuasive or unpersuasive, depending on well you can critique the analogy.

David Preston Guest Post: Overgeneralization and the Chomsky Fallacy

Overgeneralization is a failure of inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is the process by which a correct general principle is arrived at based upon analysis of specific cases or data. When you hear people say: “There is a kernel of truth in that!” about some patently absurd statement or other, that’s what has happened: a failure of inductive reasoning. Overgeneralization fallacy is what makes many jokes work, particularly those that rely on ethnic or other kinds of stereotyping

In this anti-war meme, the memester has taken a claim that is probably very true about some wars – and perhaps a little bit true about a lot of wars – and reasoned that it must be absolutely true of all wars. (This reasoning can also be represented with either symbolic logic or a Venn diagram, but I’m too lazy to do that.)

Like most overgeneralization fallacies, this one can be exposed by citing a case where the premises are the same (a war was fought) but the conclusion (the war is being fought solely for profit) is demonstrably untrue. If you think about specific wars – even just those wars that have occurred AFTER the rise of transnational capitalism – many such not-for-profit wars come to mind.

I’m guessing that whoever created this meme is a fan of Noam Chomsky, because it reminds me so much of the Chomskian worldview. In the Chomskian worldview, the more you say about something, and the bigger your vocabulary, the greater your likelihood of being right.

I call this the Chomsky Fallacy.